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SALT LAKE CITY — While parents usually feel comfortable letting their young children play online games now and then, those games often have a social component that most parents don't expect.
Social gaming is on the rise and takes up a larger market of the gaming industry than ever before, including online games, apps on social media, massively multiplayer online games and more.
At first glance, these games may not appear to have a social media aspect and may not even advertise the social component, but it's there. While a parent might not feel comfortable letting their 8-year-old on Snapchat, they may be unknowingly providing the same type of platform through a social game.
Here are some games, platforms and applications that allow for more subtle social networking:
Xbox Live is Microsoft's online service that allows people to play games against each other. This allows for fun gameplay but is essentially a social media device.
In 2012, a group of teens who met on Xbox Live ran away together.
"I don't let him have a Facebook account because I don't want him meeting people online. … I didn't realize they could do so much on Xbox," one of the teen's mothers said.
There are many games available on Xbox Live, some aimed at children. The Sims, for example, can provide a creative and entertaining experience, but also allows for social networking. The Entertainment Software Rating Board makes it clear that "online interactions (are) not rated by the ESRB."
PlayStation has an online gaming network like Xbox Live, and players can compete and communicate with others via the game. Parents should be aware that some games on PlayStation Network are aimed at children but also have network play — like LittleBigPlanet 2 and 3.
Parents can monitor the social aspect of games with different controls on Xbox Live and PlayStation's Family Manager on PlayStation Network.
The wildly popular, world-building game Minecraft teaches STEM principles, encourages teamwork and delights kids and teachers.
But parents should be aware that certain game plays in Minecraft are social, and there have been many cyberbullying incidents since its creation. Griefers, as they are known online, intentionally violate game rules, harass and intentionally destroy others' creations.
Minecraft is enjoyable for both children and adults, meaning 7-year-olds may be interacting with 27-year-olds during a game. This is also the case for another user-generated online game, Roblox, also popular with children.
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LEGO, with its blocks, theme parks, movies and games is ubiquitous with children. LEGO offers impressive educational tools like WeDo robots and building sets. But it also offers social gaming, and the company plans to do more.
LEGO recently partnered with Chinese internet giant Tencent to develop online games and a social network geared toward children. Yet it already has a social component through its app LEGO Life.
The app allows kid creators to showcase their creations and respond to build challenges. It also lets kids to follow other builders, share their content and talk to others.
There are positive effects from the social elements in these games. Video games can be a bonding experience with friends and family, improve hand-eye coordination and more. Social media can broaden viewpoints by connecting others to people from different backgrounds, and exposure to others through online games or apps can even improve communication and encourage empathy.
But parents should be knowledgeable when it comes to the social aspects of their children's games. The ESRB has ratings for video games and apps, and, when in doubt, parents can look for a review, talk to other parents or, better yet, play the game with their child.